How to Pixelate an Image

Learn how to blur a part of a picture, for privacy's sake

A man blocking his face

Sasin Paraksa/Getty Images

Pixelating, or blurring faces, in photos has a long history. It's been used to protect privacy on television shows, to emphasize the subject in photos, to hide sensitive data, and as an artistic consideration. Whether you want to take the focus off someone, or want to protect their identity, here's how to pixelate an image.

When Should I Pixelate an Image?

Pixelation can be an artistic choice; you can use it to emphasize the subject of your photo by rendering other parts of it less comprehensible to the eye. But more often than not, it's used to protect the identities of others in a photo, or to remove logos or other information you don't want in the shot. For example, if you think you look good in a group shot, you might want to pixelate the other faces so everybody knows it's you.

Before sharing someone's photo online, even if they're not the subject, get in touch and ask them for permission. 

How to Pixelate Photos

  1. Open the photo in an image editing program.

    A photo in GIMP with an area select with the Rectangle tool

    For the purposes of this article, we'll be using the General Image Manipulation Program, or GIMP, which is freely available. Most photo editing software and websites have the same tools and filters, but ensure the software has Pixelate as an available filter before using it.

  2. Crop the image to better fit what you want to emphasize. To do this, select the Rectangle Select tool, select an area, then select either Crop or Crop to Selection.

    If, for example, you want to focus on one face in a large group of people, you might cut it down so the face is in the middle of the photo, or you may simply want to get rid of extraneous details.

  3. Select the area you want to pixelate. If you don't need most of the background detail, the simplest way to do this is to select the area of the face with the Rectangle tool.

    A photo in GIMP with an area chosen by the Rectangle Select Tool

    Notice that behind the subject in the photo, because there isn't a lot of detail, it's hard to notice the filter is applied. Keep that in mind if you're trying to remove background details.

  4. If you want to be more precise, select the Oval Select tool, or Free Select tool, also called the lasso. With the lasso, you can create individual points around an area you want to select, or you can circle it in freehand. In this shot we've chosen the Oval Select tool.

    A face blurred out with the Oval Select tool

    For faces, especially if you want to quickly blur them out, the Oval Select tool will let you blur quickly with a minimum loss of detail.

  5. Once you've selected your area, select the Pixelate filter, then select Filters > Blur to apply the filter.

    This filter is sometimes called Pixelize.

  6. Choose the size of your pixels carefully. The bigger the pixels, the blurrier the face is, but smaller pixels may make more details visible. Pick a balance you prefer, then save your photo.

If you're trying to keep people anonymous in a photo you're putting on social media, consider disabling tagging. That way, if somebody recognizes the person, they can't reveal them by tagging them.